The Making of Welcome to the Future
I woke up in Playa Del Rey, CA, sometime in the spring of 1994… My rock band had completely imploded after many private showcase performances and flirtations of “sure signings” with major labels. I was deflated and growing tired of my “day job”. I had been editing sound effects for a local Post Audio House, after paying my rent in Los Angeles for years doing graphic layouts for local music magazines and clubs. I even worked for a couple of years at a mid-level advertising agency doing Illustrator Art Masters for TV Guide Ads. My lease had run out on the house I lived in with my best friend and bassist, Bob Kiah. After driving out together from Boston in 1989 to find fame and fortune in LA, it was all over. My band mates were replaced with two souls aboard a new ship. One good and one bad, Duce Vines being the good soul that I was destined to meet. Suffice it to say, yin and yang weighed heavily in the air in those days! ﷯I wasn’t even a beach person but how bad could it be, right? My new friend Duce had come up with the funding for a game production. The reason for this? The purpose? I guess it was to jettison our stalled lives and spend the next year in an insane foundry of multimedia, re-inventing our-selves and hopefully crafting a new way to make a living. CD ROM was the hot play of the day, not to mention there were a few shekels for me on the back end. So sure, sign me up, I have nothing better to do… After trying to please all those LA suits for so long, I landed in a refreshing situation that was brand new in 1994. The most unique aspect of making Welcome To The Future (WTTF) was that there were no rules. We were completely unobstructed by any kind of corporate oversight or supervisors or music industry A&R types telling us what to do. Why should we take advice from guys who were not looking forward... who were living in a model that was incapable of crossing the lines of all media genres; art, music and film? This aspect was truly alluring to me. It represented the greatest reason to fall forward instead of back. I had total freedom to create. But to create what? There were brand new shrink wrapped boxes of software. Photoshop was something I knew well as a leftover from my advertising education at Boston University, but suddenly in front of me was a fresh copy of Strata Studio Pro... mine to explore and use as I wanted! With this, I thought, I could create a virtual world, but not just static images like those from MYST. Now a game with moving images was possible. Combined with Quicktime, a new, video-capable, cross-platform tool, we could deliver an animated world to the gaming audience. The technical difficulty was fairly profound at the time. We had to deliver CD quality audio and video from a 2X CD ROM stream… that’s 300 KBs. The stereo, 16-bit audio alone took up half of that data stream. We were also serving up photo-realistic 24-bit graphics for those who had systems robust enough to handle it. Most consumer desktops at the time were not up to the task; at least not those that were already in people’s homes. We were dealing with programmers on the PC side that didn’t even know what a JPEG photo was. But we were determined. We pressed on for the better part of a year, renting a squadron of Power Macs as our render farm; 2 Apple Quadra 6100s, a 7100 and the biggest and baddest Mac on the market, an 8100. It seems all so ridiculous now, but I would work for almost 2 days, sleeping in small spurts, to fill the farm with Strata Studio Pro renders. We couldn’t afford for the farm to sit idle, so I was not allowed a solid block of sleep until I could load the computers with enough renders to work for 12 hours or so, and then I would crash and recharge. As the game progressed, Duce was the man making deals happen. We didn’t want any potential investors in WTTF to think we were just 3 guys living on the beach, smoking pot and making a video game… so we made up an entire staff of imaginary people. Of course we still had to do the work of those imaginary people, but we did it. Duce was the man on the phone, using a made-up name of course. He called out to all the companies who were drooling to pick up the next MYST. We made demos and artwork and did everything that we could to blow ourselves up to be much more than we were… and it worked. One afternoon we got a check from MYST’s publisher Broderbund… $800K in advance orders for WTTF. BAM! The game wasn’t even finished, but it didn’t matter. Go flight! I kept rendering without sleep on our homemade “wanna be Silicon Graphics” render farm, and in my off hours, I composed a myriad of full page ads that appeared in Wired, New Media, Mondo and a host of other trendy magazines at the time. Those ads were $10K a piece back in the day. That would have bought a lot of burgers… and beer… but we shined all of that. We wanted to make WTTF happen. Welcome To The Future was completed in the fall of 1995 and was released to the public. Over the course of a year, WTTF sold about 10K units at $45 a piece in such storied establishments as Comp USA. Twenty years later, there are still a few units available in their shrink-wrapped boxes for purchase online from Ebay and various other web sites, including Amazon’s retro game dealers. I know, because my sentimental side has lead me to make a few purchases myself. I have a nice little collection growing. WTTF was not a big commercial success, so why even spend the time to resurrect an old game relic from the mid 90’s? Well, its because of an email I got in the beginning of 2015. Having all but forgotten my involvement in this whole experience, I received a message from a kid that I had talked to 20 years earlier. Except, he wasn’t a kid anymore, he was now 33 years old. His name was Jordan Bartee, and he was still a big fan of the game. He was putting up some web pages about CD ROM Gaming in the 90’s and asked me if he could use some of the songs from WTTF. I was intrigued… a chapter of my life that had been closed for two decades was suddenly reopened. After a short discussion I found out Jordan had been successful in resurrecting the original game to run on modern computers via DOS BOX emulation, a truly lengthy task that required him to jump through many complicated hoops. So, he sent me the game and there I was, literally staring back in time as the images and sounds came washing back over me. So what exactly is WTTF? WTTF is a strange and wonderful bit of gaming history from the mid 90’s that still beckons to the world… even 20 years later, challenging the boundaries between video game, concept album, virtual reality, photography, film and suggestion… Is it a game? Well that’s how we sold it. We were riding the coat tails of MYST and were unimpressed with the graphic resolution of the new breed of Real Time Rendering that had just hit the streets in the form of the game DOOM. Our ultimate goal was to push the boundaries of the CD ROM experience, blurring the boundaries of traditional video, music and graphics. Until then, most of what we had seen had been somewhat corny and failed attempts at combining different mediums into an immersive and artistic expression. Did we succeed? I believe that we did. Even today, WTTF has a certain vibe that is completely unique, some of it timeless. I believe that the secret to it’s realization is that we remained in the realm of metaphor and imagery. Instead of the traditional spoon-fed storyline and series of eclectic puzzles that had been the general game play of other titles of the time, we decided to eliminate the story altogether. In it’s place, we left a myriad of psychedelic graphics, animations, symbols, music, and video imagery that spun together as a type of virtual poetry, creating an adventure all its own. The metaphor takes the front seat and the player is left to draw their own conclusions about what they are experiencing.

Lisle Engle & Duce Vines, November 2015

Is it a game? Is it an album? Is it a trip? Yes.